Across nearly 20 years, Adult Swim has delivered an eclectic barrage of animated projects that range from comedically transcendent to uncomfortably absurd. Arguably its most gloriously unsettling original is Vernon Chatman's The Shivering Truth, which employs meticulous stop-motion animation in delivering its haunting themes and often taboo subject matter. The show's provocative nature is certainly familiar to fans of Chatman's former creations such as Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel, and his long career as a writer and producer on South Park also helped to hone that vision.
CinemaBlend spoke with Vernon Chatman to talk about The Shivering Truth's second season, which is just as unpredictable and affecting as Season 1. I asked Chatman how he thought South Park paved the way for him to create a show like Shivering Truth, and by and large, he credits the uniqueness and workmanship of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In his words:
That's a good question. I'm totally sure it has. I guess for me, the biggest thing that's incredible about South Park is that it is truly the perspective of two people. I've worked on the show for 20 years, and I write the show with those guys, and I have for most of the episodes over 20 years. But on that show, it's like I'm there to sort of figure out the best way for those guys to put their thing on the screen. I can't think of another TV show, much less a narrative TV show, that is really just two people's voices for 24 seasons. So that's amazing, and then those guys happen to be super hilarious and super interested in telling stories and all that kind of stuff.
Though the majority of TV projects engage a variety of writers that spread their talent around when planning stories out, South Park very much remains tethered to its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Obviously other people like Vernon Chatman work on the show – he also voices Towelie, among others – but partially as the fuel that helps Parker and Stone bear their most effective fruits. It was impressive enough in the show's earliest years, but the fact that they've been bringing South Park to life since 1997 is truly awe-inspiring.
For much of that time, Vernon Chatman has had a front row seat in witnessing Trey Parker and Matt Stone's singular vision come to life on a weekly basis, which has no doubt bled into how Chatman has directed his career outside of South Park. Chatman has long worked alongside John Lee in crafting everything from Wonder Showzen to The Heart She Holler to Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, and the duo very clearly maintained creative control for each project's lifespan. Chatman took things even further with The Shivering Truth, serving as the show's lone writer, while sharing directing duties with the equally awesome Cat Solen.
Here, Vernon Chatman talks more about the singleness of South Park:
But just the fact that it's two guys at the wheel every single time, every second, every frame, every word, for that long is fucking crazy. That, to me, is the most amazing thing about South Park. And just showing that you can just have a very, very tight specific voice on a show for that long and have it be that strong, and be that deep so far down the road into it, that you're that far down into somebody's brain. Then for that show, those guys do 85-90% of the voices inside their heads the entire time. So it's amazing. And then the world just gets, every season, increasingly populated with these characters by, you know, more iterations of their perspectives. And I guess that probably that show has built up an audience recognizing that comedy animation can do that for a really long time for for children and adults. I mean, it's for adults but if 'adult' starts at like 10 years old.
Without a show like South Park proving that mainstream audiences were ready for animated series that skewed even more adult than The Simpsons, we might never have gotten such indelible modern classics such as BoJack Horseman, Harley Quinn, or Rick and Morty. (Much less anything else on Adult Swim beyond maybe Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.) Even Family Guy, which debuted less than two years after South Park, might have been harder to swallow had Trey Parker and Matt Stone not lit up cable TV with its then-risqué episodes. And where one of South Park's earliest catchphrases was "kick the baby," Vernon Chatman's The Shivering Truth features a character who secures her survival by pretending she's going to eat her baby.
In speaking with Vernon Chatman, I also brought up the fact that South Park has rarely played a partisan card with its satire, choosing to aim at anyone and everyone. Chatman's work has largely taken the same equal-opportunity approach with its potentially offensive content, and The Shivering Truth is definitely included. Here's what he had to say about TV creators who play up personal beliefs through storylines.
Yeah, I mean, it's pretty gross when you see people pushing such a kind of surface agenda, because either it's self-serving, and you're just sort of pandering and trying to get a little bit of reflected glory on those who do agree with your perspective. Or whatever it is. You should always dig until you're a little uncomfortable, until you get to the point where you might get in trouble, and then you know you're getting to something that is worse. You're digging deeper and further.
To be sure, very few creative minds in the entertainment industry are trying to dig as deep into the human psyche as Vernon Chatman, and his unwavering vision is the core reason why The Shivering Truth stands out so clearly in an increasingly clogged TV landscape. Thankfully, his long career on South Park further helped Chatman see how creatively and critically successful a hugely popular TV show can be even when based mostly on the imaginative power of its creators. Here's hoping The Shivering Truth will also be on the air for more than two decades, or at least as long as Chatman feels comfortable putting it all together.
The Shivering Truth Season 2 airs Sunday nights (technically Monday mornings) on Adult Swim at 12:00 a.m. ET. Be sure to keep watching so that Adult Swim knows how much the world needs this show leading our nightmares each week.